If there was any question that the Celtics 2013-14 season is destined for the lottery, the team's actions over the last week basically eliminated them. Boston traded a very useful player in Jordan Crawford for a really bad player in Joel Anthony, plus a protected first round pick and an additional second rounder. For the second time in just two weeks, Danny Ainge willingly made the 2013-14 team worse in exchange for making future teams (hopefully) better.
And then on the court, after snapping a nine game losing streak against a red-hot Raptors team on Wednesday night, the Celtics lost consecutive games to fellow Wiggins Watch members, the Lakers (who'd lost 12 of 13) and the Magic (who'd lost ten in a row). This despite the fact that Rajon Rondo made his season debut vs Los Angeles, playing about 20 minutes vs both LA and Orlando.
Boston has now lost 14 of their last 16 games, falling a season high 14 games below .500, and dropping four games behind the eighth-seeded Nets (also a season high). We may have jumped the gun by starting Wiggins Watch just three games into the season (or maybe we didn't..this team was always bad, they just had a nice run early on), but at this point even the most positive thinking Celtics fans are keeping an eye on the team's lottery position.
Before we get to the team's competing with Boston for the top spots in the lottery, let's take a look at the top four collegiate prospects and how they fared this week.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: 15.1 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 44% FG, 33% 3 PT
Jabari Parker, Duke: 19.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 49% FG, 41% 3 PT
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 16.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.7 BPG, 54% FG, 72% FT
Joel Embiid, Kansas: 11 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 69% FG, 65% FT
At the start of the season, Kansas center Joel Embiid was considered a long term project with the potential to someday become a special player. Now, halfway through his Freshman season, he's already there. Yes, there are still warts. He has an extremely high foul rate (5.8 per-36 minutes), and a propensity to turn the basketball over (3.5 per-36), both things he needs to work on going forward. After all, you can't dominate a game while sitting on the bench in foul trouble. But Embiid is a far more polished player, both offensively and defensively than scouts expected at this point. This week he dominated two top ten teams (#8 Iowa State and #9 Oklahoma State), averaging 14.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG and 6.5 BPG while shooting 86% from the field in two Kansas wins. Those performances helped Embiid jump to the top of Chad Ford's most recent Top 100, somewhere he very well may stay until June.
Wiggins on the other hand was hit-and-miss in the Jayhawks two big wins. Against ISU he went for 17 points and 19 rebounds, playing aggressive and crashing the boards like few small forwards can do. But then, vs OSU he was nearly invisible, scoring three points in 23 minutes and earning a spot on the bench during crunch time. Wiggins is very young and has a ton of potential, but right now he has an issue with floating through games. It's something that some players grow out of, but many more do not (cough cough Jeff Green cough). He's still a sure fire top three pick with an incredibly high ceiling, but he's no longer the consensus number one guy.
It was nice to see Parker break out of his slump against NC State on Saturday, scoring 23 points on 14 shots while grabbing seven boards. It was the first time in five ACC games that Parker shot above 40% from the field, and the first time he went over 20 points since the start of the new year. For what it's worth, the ESPN mock draft machine has the Celtics picking Parker over Wiggins every time they're both available. So if Ford's correct, it appears Ainge likes the more finished prospect over the guy who most believe has a higher ceiling.
And then there's Randle, who sometimes falls as low as sixth in the mock (below Dante Exum and Marcus Smart), but is still considered the most logical fourth pick. Randle continues to give Kentucky a solid 17-10 per night, and has the look of a guy who can put up very similar numbers in the NBA. He's a below the rim athlete, and at 6'9" is a bit undersized for his natural position of power forward, but potential 20-10 guys do not grow on trees and Randle will still go very high come June.
Bottom line is that it's a hell of a year to have a top five pick, and the Celtics are in good position to earn just that. But they're not the only team with their eyes on the draft prizes. The top ten continues to be very, very competitive. Let's break it down.
Note #1: The rankings are in terms of record, but I also will list the Hollinger lottery odds, former ESPN columnist (and current Grizzlies front office executive) John Hollinger's simulation system which predicts teams records based on their season thus far and upcoming schedule. The number you see after the Hollinger lottery odds is what place they rank in his system.
Note #2: The NBA has a bunch of games in progress/coming to a close right now, and the Hollinger predictions don't include the results of them.
1. Bucks, 7-33 (Hollinger lottery odds: 22.4% - 1st)
Just like in 2006-07, the Celtics seem to lose just about every night, but just can't catch the Bucks in that department. Milwaukee refuses to let the Celtics, or any other team for that matter, gain ground in the tank standings, having just finished up yet another winless week (0-4). The Bucks have the most road losses (18) and the most home losses (15), setting themselves up for potential lottery glory. Of course back in 2007, both the Bucks and Celtics missed out on the big lottery prizes (Kevin Durant and Greg Oden). But this time will be different (please be different).
2. Magic, 11-30 (HLO: 16.3% - 2nd)
Have a long losing streak? Feel like you'll never win again? No problem, just have the Celtics come to town and you'll have no problem ending a long losing skid. Earlier this year the C's helped the Bucks snap their 11 game losing streak (the longest in the NBA this season), and then last night in Orlando the Magic snapped their ten game skid (the second longest). So at least the Celts are consistent.
As for the Magic, despite the win over the Celtics things are still looking good for them in the lottery standings. They're on an island at the moment, three and a half games behind the Bucks for the #1 spot, but two games up on the 76ers/Celtics/Jazz log jam for the 3-5 spots. However, those three teams may be able to make a run on Orlando in the coming weeks as the Magic's next eight games are against teams no better than one game over .500, including games with Wiggins Watch members the Hornets, Lakers, Pistons, Celtics and Bucks. If the Magic can continue to lose during this stretch, we may have something special on our hands.
3. 76ers, 13-28 (HLO: 13.7% - 3rd)
Go Sixers! As a result of the Crawford trade last week the Celtics now own Philadelphia's protected first round pick. The pick is lottery protected in both 2014 and 2015, and if Philly misses the playoffs both seasons it then becomes two second round picks (2015 and 2016). So Celtics fans should absolutely be rooting for the Sixers to get hot and somehow snag one of the bottom Eastern Conference playoff spots.
However, realistic fans know that just isn't going to happen. Philly has the second worst point differential in basketball (-8.3) and according to Hollinger's odds they have just a 1.3% chance of making the playoffs this year. So while we can dream, chances are we will be putting all of our eggs in the 2014-15 Sixers basket, which with Michael Carter-Williams' play, the return of Nerlens Noel, and possibly two more first round picks this season (they also own New Orleans' pick, top five protected), isn't the worst basket to have eggs in.
As for the 2013-14 squad, as we mentioned above, they suck. And apparently GM Sam Hinkie is looking to deal Thaddeus Young (17.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, owed $9.4 million next year) and Evan Turner (18.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, restricted free agent this summer) as part of the rebuild, which would likely lead to a Bucks-esque free-fall in the standings. Boston has their work cut out to out-lose Philly this year.
T-4. Celtics, 14-28 (HLO: 6.5% - 6th)
The Celtics and Jazz are in a dead heat for the #4 spot, and per NBA rules, there is no tiebreaker, but instead the two teams would add up all the ping pong balls for both the fourth and fifth lottery positions (combined 20.7% chance) and divide them by two. There is then a coin flip to decide who is technically in the higher spot (in this case fourth vs fifth) as to slot the teams in case both do not get a top three pick. With 40 games left, this doesn't matter much right now, but that fact could be necessary knowledge come May so I thought it was worth noting.
The Cs are quickly falling out of playoff contention (current odds to make the playoffs: 14.8%, lowest all season), and have completely fallen out of the Atlantic division race (current odds: 0.1%), putting even more onus on getting a top five pick. If they were going to make a run at the division and possibly a second round appearance, it would have become a little more palatable for some fans to miss out on elite talent in the draft. But for the chance to get kicked in the teeth by Miami or Indiana in round one? We've already proven most fans don't want that.
This has the makings of another tough week for the Celts, with games at Miami and Washington, and then home tilts with the scorched-Earth hot Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce/KG on Sunday. As Rondo gets re-acclimated he'll eventually make this team better, but the losses of Crawford and Courtney Lee have crushed Boston's depth. In fact I'm pretty sure I can see Ainge circling like a vulture now, ready to deal either Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries and finish off this team for good.
On a more positive note, it was a great week for rookies Kelly Olynyk and Phil Pressey, two possible long term pieces to the puzzle. Rebuilding seasons aren't all bad, as it's always nice to find good young players who can be part of the next successful era of basketball. And oh yea, that Rondo guy came back. Now it's time to find one more stud to run with him, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and the young role players.
T-4. Jazz, 14-28 (HLO: 7.1% - 5th)
The Jazz are the bizarro world Celtics, having started off horrific (1-14) before becoming an average team (13-14 since then). As we've mentioned in past Wiggins Watch's, Utah has a really nice young core that may be coming together just one season too quick. Almost all of their minutes are going to young guys with a possible future in Salt Lake City, with only Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams currently serving as the exceptions. Utah is a young wing player away from having a dynamic starting five, making them a perfect fit for either Wiggins or Parker. Only if they keep winning 50% of their games, which they basically have since point guard Trey Burke returned, they will likely find themselves picking outside of the top five. Then again, that's tied to their young guys becoming very good players, so it's a pretty good problem to have.
6. Kings, 14-25 (HLO: 3.4% - 11th)
The Kings schedule is finally evening out (at one point they had played 22 home games and 13 road games), and so far the results are about what you would have expected. SacTown is 1-3 on their six game road trip with trips to New Orleans and Houston remaining this week. They then return home for meetings with the Pacers and Nuggets, finishing off a tough week overall.
The Kings look like one of those teams that is just good enough to win 30 games and not get a top five pick, but still plenty bad enough to not be in contention. Not the best place to be, but the Rudy Gay deal (and his subsequent good play) has entrenched them there.
7. Cavs, 15-26 (HLO: 3.9% - 10th)
Cleveland lost this afternoon to the Mavs, so their Hollinger odds will probably increase just a bit overnight. Still, the Cavs odds have dropped from 10% two weeks ago to just 4%, thanks to the arrival of Luol Deng, and an impressive 3-2 Western Conference road trip (with wins over the Jazz, Lakers, and Nuggets).
The Cavs dug themselves quite a deep hole, but with Deng in town should be able to climb out of it and become an interesting playoff team in the East. Of course it would help to be getting something, anything, from #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. But at this point, that's not going to happen. Despite Bennett's embarrassing debut season, expect the Cavs to continue to slide right out of these rankings. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Deng, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Verejao is a legit line-up that easily outclasses the other Eastern Conference bottom feeders.
8. Nuggets, 20-20 (own 15-25 Knicks' pick) (HLO: 2.2% - 12th)
Despite the Knicks collapse after a brief stretch of winning around the start of 2014, Hollinger's odds still like them to grab the 8-seed in the East, hurting Denver's chances at grabbing the top pick. But despite the rosy projection, New York is far from a lock to grab a playoff spot, currently getting drubbed by the Nets and still sitting two games outside of the playoff picture.
You have to believe that talent will win out at some point with the Knicks. Not enough to launch them into contention, but at least enough to lift them into the playoffs in such a terrible conference. Then again, we're 40 games in and New York is currently 19th in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency. So it's entirely possible they just stink. Which would be great news for the Nuggets.
9. Hornets, 15-24 (HLO: 4.1% - T-8th)
The NBA's injury epidemic has absolutely crushed the Hornets, causing them to fall from legit contender for the 8-seed out West, to legit contender for a top-eight pick in the draft. After missing Anthony Davis for nearly a month with a broken hand, New Orleans is now without Jrue Holiday indefinitely (leg fracture) and Ryan Anderson for two months (herniated disc).
All of a sudden the Hornets have lost eight games in a row, plunging them to 15-24 on the season, and putting them in much better shape to win the lottery (4.1%) than to make the playoffs (0.5%) via Hollinger's numbers.
With Tyreke Evans just returning from an injury of his own, the Hornets may be able to win enough games to avoid a total collapse, but this is now a team to keep an eye on. And if they were to land a top three pick and select either Parker or Wiggins to run with Davis, Anderson and their guards, this team could be something pretty special.
10. Lakers, 16-25 (HLO: 8.7% - 4th)
For those of you like me, hoping that LA can find a way to win enough games to avoid earning a top pick, this was a good week. Wins over the Celtics and Raptors helped the Lakers hop a few teams in the standings, necessary wins with four more games remaining on their road trip and Kobe not expected back until after they return home.
If Bryant returns at anything resembling his previous production level and the team holds on to Pau Gasol (who remains criminally underrated), the Lakers will not be able to keep pace in the race to the bottom. Those guys are just too good for this team to completely bottom out. And that's potentially good news. Having LA win 35 games and finish with the 10th worst record is the ideal scenario, keeping them away from both the playoffs and a top five pick. So if that's what you're rooting for, the past two wins were a positive development.
Other teams to watch: Pistons, 17-24 (HLO: 5% - 7th), Bobcats, 18-25 (HLO: 4.1% - T-8th)
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Michael Dyer 1/20/2014 04:52:00 PM Tweet